News Flash: HIIT and Tabata Aren’t For Every Body

You don’t have to look far to find a website, podcast, magazine article, or video blog touting the benefits of Tabata or HIIT. Hell, I’ve written about both on numerous occasions and utilize each in my own routines quite regularly. However, I’ve been working out long enough to have built up the stamina, cardiovascular capacity, and strength to use such methods effectively without injuring myself or introducing my body to an unfamiliar amount of stress—and no, I’m not trying to come off arrogant by alluding to some notion that I’m super fit and you’re not, but I am saying that fitness is acquired in stages and should be approached as such.

If you’ve not trained in a good while, becoming in effect deconditioned, you can do more harm than good by rushing into something like Tabata or HIIT—both of which require fast movements, done one after the other, with very little time for taking a breather, much less taking into account how your body is actually reacting to such stress—and could open the door to unnecessary injuries or undue strain on the cardiovascular system.

For example, everyone loves the idea of buying P90x or Insanity and  losing a good bit of weight—in a short period of time—in the privacy of their own homes; but how many of said people actually realize those systems heavily institute plyometrics into their programs and heed the warnings given about taking things slowly and working your way up in intensity?

I can tell you right now, a lot of people pop in those DVD’s, without a second thought, and then wonder how on earth they sprained their ankle or twisted their knee.

The reason these “revolutionary” programs call for such caution is because the average human body doesn’t roll out of bed ready to jump, twist, and perform superhuman bodily movements. Plyometrics are primarily used by athletes looking to improve power, speed, agility, and quickness. The average Joe isn’t looking to compete in a triathlon or compete in professional sports.

That said, the average human body needs to progress to the point where such actions are a possibility. And they need to do so slowly.

First concentrate on building core strength and balance. If you don’t have these, you’re screwed anyhow since every movement we make goes back to core strength.  Next, look to build muscular endurance so your arms, legs, ankles, and back can take the pounding they’re going to endure. And finally, get flexible. It’s unrealistic to think you can contort and move your body in unnatural ways without having a certain degree of flexibility.

Once you do these things, then you can concentrate on motor learning—getting your body comfortable with things like high knee runs, lunge jumps, plank jacks, etc—so that when you begin to execute them in a more explosive manner, you’re not doing more harm than good.

The bottom line is this: if you haven’t worked out in a while, aren’t familiar or comfortable with plyometrics, have bad knees or prior injuries that limit movement or simply aren’t sure where your fitness level truly is, then you probably shouldn’t jump into a program like P90x, Insanity, or Turbo Fire and you should modify any HIIT or Tabata training you choose to institute—if any.

Quick, fast, and in a hurry might sound good to those looking to lose pounds fast but, in the long run, you can find just as much success taking things slowly and working your body into the kind of shape it needs to be to take on such challenges. Sure, it will take a bit longer, but weight loss is a marathon, not a sprint. Remember that.

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